Resources/Resourced

An organization that deals with troubled kids recently wrote that it tries to provide these kids with some of the same opportunities enjoyed by “more resourced youth.” At first, I thought this use of RESOURCED must be just a substitute for “advantaged,” the previously trendy way of describing the well-to-do. But it turns out that the fortunate youth in question are not necessarily “resourced” in material ways.

A careful reading of this organization’s literature eventually reveals that “more resourced youth” are the ones with desirable inner resources, like diligence, self-respect, and good citizenship. In short, they are the ones whom, in a less enlightened and refined age, we used to call the “good kids.” Now they’re “resourced.” How would a normal reader, untutored in the secret language where such usages are common, ever guess what such a strange coinage was trying to say?

Trying to close the psychological and material gaps in the lives of less-fortunate kids is surely God’s work. Calling it “resourcing,” however, sounds like the work of some lower-realm authority. Most of all, the goofy euphemism squanders an opportunity to explain this organization and its kids to people who would probably care and want to help.

“Urban schools,” a think tank report declares, “have been under-resourced relative to suburban districts.” There’s an under-statement for you, in more than one sense. “This program provides critical resources for community organizations involved in preventive health.” Let’s not dwell, for now, on the dizzying concept of “preventive health,” which prompts the question, What is my health preventing? Instead, let’s wonder what those “critical resources” might be. Money? Nurses? Clinics? A few words of hearty encouragement? The text in question never says. We’re expected to admire this organization, but apparently we’re not entitled to know why.

The most common sense of RESOURCES in the public sphere is “whatever you need to get the job done,” a list that usually starts with money but includes many other things as well. The vagueness of the word is therefore sometimes intentional, and occasionally even useful, because the complete list of “whatever you need” could go on for pages. It simply isn’t practical, in many contexts, to list all the “resources” crucial to a given task. Sometimes a big, bulging grab-bag of a word is the only kind that will do, because the thing being discussed is, frankly, a grab-bag.

But too often, the use of a vague, unbounded word like RESOURCES (never mind RESOURCED) is neither intentional nor useful, just thoughtless. Those “under-resourced” urban schools are, in reality, deficient in only one primary resource: money. Everything else they lack — the whole long list — can be purchased with just that one “resource.” So why wouldn’t the think tank say “urban schools get less money per pupil than those in the suburbs”? Are they afraid of sounding mercenary? Or might they be trying to gull some unsuspecting taxpayers into supporting their point of view without ever realizing that it’s more dollars the schools are after? I frankly doubt that the purpose is anything so wily and deceptive.

The more likely explanation is that the think tank, like the health outfit and the youth program, have simply slipped into the cozy, familiar code language of the nonprofit world, where resources are scarce, but strange words pile up in abundance.

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